BANK OF Israel Governor Stanley Fischer is one of the world's leading economists, and "whatever he says happens," President Shimon Peres said Monday at the 13th plenary of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem. But he likes it better when Fischer is optimistic, which he had been until this week. "Now he's pessimistic," Peres said, adding that he did not entirely believe Fischer's dire prediction. "I think we can escape this crisis," Peres said, noting that people who are experts can speak with expertise only about what has happened but not what will happen. WJC president Ronald Lauder, an international businessman and philanthropist, said no one knows where the bottom of the economic meltdown lies or when the economy will change. But it was clear to him that if the banks don't inject cash into the economy, it won't grow. Peres will leave for Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday as Israel's key representative at the World Economic Forum. His mission is not only to strengthen Israel's economic ties but also Israel's image abroad. Among the world dignitaries with whom he has scheduled meetings are Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. In addition to his political meetings, Peres will also participate in a panel discussion on the values behind market capitalism. EL AL CEO Haim Romano last week informed the airline's board of directors that in view of the economic crunch, he would take a 15 percent cut in his salary this year. The decision will not affect his benefits and pension rights. This is not the first time Romano has taken a voluntary pay cut; in 2005 he chose to forgo some bonuses. While a 15% pay cut would be very painful to anyone earning a basic wage, Romano may only feel a slight twinge; taking 15% out of a monthly salary of NIS 120,000 will still leave him with plenty to live on. Romano also told the board of directors that more people are now making their flight reservations via the Internet than with travel agents. IN OTHER El Al news, the board of directors decided to appoint Amikam Cohen as its chairman. He replaces interim chairman Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who will continue to serve on the board and as chairman of the committee liaising with the government and with regulators. Cohen, who was the founder and CEO of Partner, remained in that position until 2007. He previously held executive positions with Elite, Strauss and Tadiran. He currently serves as CEO of Hutchison Water. IT'S NOT only Israel's image that needs supporting abroad, it's also the economy. Last week, the Manufacturers Association of Israel, as part of its "Made in Israel" campaign, awarded a certificate of appreciation to Peter van Oordt, one of the leaders of the Dutch Christian organization Christenen Voor Israel, an active partner of Keren Hayesod in Holland. Christenen Voor Israel was founded 20 years ago and has been promoting the sale of Israeli products in Holland and elsewhere in Europe. It runs the Israel Product Center in Holland and purchases more than NIS 5 million worth of Israeli products annually for distribution and sales in Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. The products include food, cosmetics, textiles, toys, jewelry and wines. The ceremony took place at Tel Aviv's David Intercontinental Hotel during the association's annual meeting. Awards to companies participating in the association's "Blue and White" competition were also distributed to Haifa Chemicals and Itung. SOME PEOPLE feel the need to share their awards with their colleagues and/or their place of employment. Among those in this category is Israel Aerospace Industries president and CEO Itzhak Nissan. Last week he received the "Manager of the Year" award from the Israel Management Center. The award is given to outstanding leaders of hi-tech companies that have revenues of at least $50 million annually. "Israel Aerospace Industries is one of the driving hi-tech forces behind Israel's economy and is Israel's leading industrial exporter," Nissan said. "A significant portion of its projects involve R&D. Exports make up 80 percent of its activity, and it has ties in 58 countries." IAI ranks among the top-five leading company worldwide in its field, he said. Previous recipients of the award include: Israel Makov, who was president of Teva; Yehudit and Yehuda Bronicki, presidents of Ormat; Haim Shani, CEO of NICE; and Gil Shwed, president and CEO of Checkpoint. THE LOCAL tourist industry is hurting due to the downturn in the economy and the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead. Many hotels, in an effort to avoid layoffs, have either sent employees on vacation or have shortened the per capita working week. But at least one hotel could boast a full house this week: the Inbal in Jerusalem. It had to summon all its employees to cater to the needs of participants in the 13th plenary of the World Jewish Congress, which is currently taking place. Several of the participants in the Congress have been off-loaded to other hotels in the capital because the Inbal could not accommodate them all. Unfortunately the occupancy statistics will plummet later this week. The capital's Regency Hotel is also doing well, thanks to the Jerusalem Summit Conference, which is also taking place this week. But here again, the lobby will be close to empty by the end of the week. Although there are some solidarity missions from the US and Europe that are touring the country, the numbers are not large enough to give a real boost to the industry. Visits to Israel's malls give a false impression about the recession. Coffee shops and other eateries in most malls are well patronized, even though prices are relatively expensive. But many people would rather spend somewhere between NIS 50 to NIS 100 on comfort food than considerably more on a so-called bargain. Case in point is the Alrov Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, where people stand in line to get into the coffee shops, but where one doesn't see too many customers in the many stores with huge sales signs in the windows. That's because in some cases, even when items are reduced by as much as 50% to 60%, they're still not affordable. Sako-Or leather goods, which specializes in footwear, bags and jackets, has a bag in the window with the figure 150 in large digits. Then one looks again and it's multiplied by 12, bringing the price to NIS 1,796; it was originally NIS 4,490. That's a huge reduction, but hardly affordable for someone on a basic wage. Similarly a pair of boots marked 227 x 12 has been reduced from NIS 5,450 to NIS 2,725. Some bargain! Many of the sales items in the clothing stores are also overpriced for end-of-season sales. Among the exceptions is Renuar, which is selling sweaters, cardigans, blouses, skirts and dresses for NIS 69 to NIS 99; its menswear store includes pants and jackets that sell for NIS 129.